13 Apr 2024

‘Microbot’ development could help treat epileptic seizures

Crossbrain team

University of Glasgow researchers are part of a new project which is setting out to develop tiny injectable robots capable of predicting and mitigating epileptic seizures.

The project, called CROSSBRAIN, is led by Tor Vergata University of Rome in Italy and is funded by the European Innovation Council.

Over the course of the next four years, the CROSSBRAIN collaborators will develop implantable ‘microbots’, about a tenth of a millimetre in size, made from advanced nanomaterials with specially-tailored physical properties. Once implanted in the brain, they will be controlled by a small, wearable central control unit capable of monitoring electrical activity to detect the onset of a seizure and modulate its effect through targeted neurostimulation.

The microbots will be able to deliver genetic material on command, enabling cell- and microcircuit-level neuromodulation in rodent brains during the later stages of the project’s development. Professor Hadi Heidari, of the University of Glasgow’s James Watt School of Engineering, is leading the UK contribution to CROSSBRAIN. Professor Heidari’s Microelectronics Lab conducts pioneering research on integrated micro and nanoelectronics design for medical and industrial applications. In this project, the Microelectronics Lab will help to design and develop the microbots’ wireless power and data management and delivery systems.

The CROSSBRAIN team will develop a cutting-edge FBAR magnetoelectric antenna at the world-class cleanroom facilities of the University’s James Watt Nanofabrication Centre.  Professor Heidari said: “We’re pleased to be part of this ambitious project, which has the potential to pave the way for transformative treatments for pathological brain conditions like epilepsy.

“CROSSBRAIN brings together leading researchers from across Europe, with a wide range of expertise in bioengineering, artificial intelligence, nanomaterial design and fabrication, and medical physics. I’m looking forward to collaborating with my colleagues to develop this exciting technology in the years to come.”

The CROSSBRAIN team are Dr Rupam Das, of the University of Exeter, Dr Finlay Walton, Mahdieh Shojaei Baghini, Jungang Zhang and Laura Mazon Maldonado. Professor Muhammad Imran, director of the University of Glasgow’s Communications, Sensing and Imaging Hub, is also lending his support on wireless power and data transmission.

Professor Nicola Toschi, of the Department of Biomedicine and Prevention at the Tor Vergata University of Rome, is the project’s principal investigator. He added: “Within brain tissue, neurons communicate through a complex interplay of signaling mechanisms, including chemical, thermal, and electrical (depolarization/repolarization) changes. It is widely known that many pathological brain conditions directly involve aberrant electrical activity of the brain, such as, epileptic seizures or panic disorders.

“In such conditions, timely recognition and prompt intervention are essential to begin effective periodic and adaptive treatment. However, the technologies available to guide and modulate brain activity in a precise and selective way for therapeutic purposes are severely limited to date, considerably reducing the therapeutic options.

“However, recent advances in nanotechnology could facilitate access to new modalities and innovative paradigms in the field of neuromodulation. Innovation in the field of nanomaterials provides the opportunity to modulate neuronal activity with greater precision and sensitivity. The CROSSBRAIN project aims to create radically new neurostimulation strategies and devices in the field of precision medicine with a key role in the predictive management of brain diseases.”

The other partners in the CROSSBRAIN project are SISSA International School of Advanced Studies of Trieste, Italy; PERC PERCUROS BV, Netherlands; NLB NAMLAB GMBH, Dresden, Germany; FAU Friedrich Alexander Universitaet, Erlangen-Nuernberg, Germany; CIC Associacion Centro de Investigacion Cooperativa en Biomateriales, San Sebastian, Spain; IIT Italian Institute of Technology Foundation, Genoa, Italy and the CSIC Agencia estatal consejo superior de investigaciones cientificas Madrid, Spain.

CROSSBRAIN is funded by the EIC Pathfinder Challenge Grant, funded by the European Innovation Council (European Commission) under the Horizon Europe program. EIC is Europe’s flagship innovation program that identifies, develops, and scales up breakthrough technologies and innovations throughout their lifecycle, from the early research stage, proof of concept, technology transfer and funding and development of start-ups and SMEs.